A different flavor from Asia

There are over 20 Asian restaurants around Carnegie Mellon. One cuisine that is not as regular as Chinese takeout, though, is Korean. In Oakland, there is Oishii Bento, a Japanese restaurant owned by Koreans. They have some Korean dishes in their menu, but to go to the Korean restaurant that Carnegie Mellon students look forward to, you have to go to Korea Garden. The restaurant is located on Semple Street in Oakland, within walking distance.

The restaurant’s decorations are very minimal. The plain white walls only have the special dishes posted on paper. The wooden tables have an interesting rose carving in the middle, a detail you would not see in a nationwide chain restaurant.

The waitress recommended dishes like Korean’s Delicious Spicy Silken Tofu Stew, or Soon Du Bu ($9.95), and Thin Sliced Pork Tenderloin and Vegetable Pan Fried with Sweet and Spicy Sauce, or Jae Yuk Bok Um ($15.95), with added tu-dong noodles or rice cakes at an extra charge ($18.95). The dishes came with rice.

The rice was served in small aluminum bowls rather than the usual ceramic bowl. Also, the dishes were served with side dishes ranging from kimchi to fish balls. We ordered the tenderloin and the vegetable dish with a rice cake. At first glance, this dish can be intimidating. The serving was really huge, and the color of the dish was very red. It was not the orange-red like kimchi, but a deep red, as if it contained a lot of chili peppers. Despite its appearance, the sauce really did have the right balance of sweet and spicy, as the name suggested. The pork tenderloin was really tender and had the right amount of fat to make the dish flavorful, but not too oily. The real surprise was actually in the rice cake. It had a perfect chewiness to it, the al dente of the Korean rice cake. The bland taste of the rice cake was complemented by the rich sweet and spicy sauce. Eating the two dishes with rice cake alone would be too strong, but this dish with rice and a rice cake is nothing short of perfection.

Another dish was Soon Du Bu, which was served in a black ceramic bowl. The color was so black it resembled a stone bowl. The stew was served while it was bubbling hot. We were told to stir the stew right away because there was an uncooked egg in the bottom of the bowl. Stirring the stew breaks up the tofu and incorporates the eggs into the soup, creating a creamy texture. The heat from the soup cooks the egg. This dish removes all the memories of the bad soy taste people associate with tofu. The tofu is really smooth and silky. It does have a soy bean taste and smell to it, but isn’t too much like soy milk. This is a spicy stew. This dish is even hotter and spicier when it is served very hot. After a long walk to this restaurant in a cold winter, the stew will really warm you up.

Since it is such a long walk to Korea Garden, going there is always a treat. This is the place for good Korean food. It might not be the most romantic restaurant, but Korea Garden does serve great food. If you want to try an oriental cuisine different from Chinese or Thai, this is definitely the place.